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What does Brexit mean for the environment? It's a question that the Leave camp can't answer

As far as our country and our planet are concerned, it's open and shut: we're stronger in. 

What has the European Union ever done for us? Except for the cleaner beaches, air and water, lower greenhouse gas emissions and preserving wildlife?  Now three of Britain’s biggest wildlife and conservation charities have thrown down the gauntlet to Leave campaigners asking quite how they could guarantee Britain’s birds, bees and environment would be protected outside the EU.

I expect we’ll be waiting some time, because there is no way that they can. It is only through European cooperation that so many of the environmental protections we have now exist and will be protected in future. Global challenges like climate change need cross border cooperation or they’ll never be overcome.  

The three questions posed by WWF, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts remind us just how much is at stake if we leave. First, how does being in Europe help Britain take decisive action on nature protection, pollution and air quality?

Inside Europe, the UK benefits from common rules that protect the country’s nature and wildlife, set limits for pollution and waste, and help us reduce our carbon footprint. Leaving the EU would mean an end to our automatic participation in Europe-wide rules that are vital to saving our environment, and could result in the loss of important safeguards for nature in the UK.

As the trio of campaign groups’ report rightly points out, the EU has had a positive effect on environmental standards here in the UK already. Whether is it a reduction in air and water pollution or greenhouse gas, increased use of renewables, transformed waste management, the withdrawal of toxic substances from use and a legal framework to protect the seas, the EU has led the way in making the UK a cleaner and greener country.

That’s not to say that the UK would be lost on its own: just that, as with our security and our economy, we’re stronger as a member. The same can’t be said for Britain being out on its own.

There are two versions of what that could look like according to the report. The first is that Britain leaves the EU entirely and loses its automatic participation in all EU environmental legislation. The second is that we remain part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) or the European Economic Area (EEA) in a similar way to Norway or Switzerland. However, as a member of the EFTA or EEA we would still contribute sustainably to the EU budget but have no place at the table to direct future policy.

So no alternative available to us is as beneficial as our full membership of the EU – it’s a lose-lose scenario.

Working with our partners in the EU on the other hand, we can remain a world leader in developing solutions to the great environmental challenges. As the report says, “the environment has become an increasingly important concern for the EU” and that “measures introduced by the EU have been the result of rigorous, detailed negotiations, balancing the interests of all Member States, including the UK.”

One of the strengths of EU legislation is that it works on the principle of a shared and comprehensive effort. That’s meant it has created stable measures that allow for long term planning on the environmental challenges we face.

It “leads the world in environmental standards – setting and law making – for instance on water quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” Leaving the EU would present “UK law-makers with a huge challenge in terms of writing decades of complex environmental laws” in the reports own words. Why would we want to risk that?

The second question posed relates to our role internationally: how would we exercise leadership globally on climate change? For those like me that are proud that Britain is an influential, outward facing nation at the centre of global affairs, this is a particularly important question.

The truth is that the challenges Britain faces – whether climate change, food supply, desertification and deforestation – increasingly know no borders. That means that coordinated action between all countries is needed to effectively take on the challenge of tackling it.

By being in Europe, Britain is best placed to drive international action to this end. From Kyoto to Paris, being in Europe amplifies Britain’s voice in global climate talks and helps us to stand up against big polluting industries in the United States and China. Outside of the EU, Britain’s voice in these global forums would be diminished, and we would find ourselves outside of EU discussions on how Europe can lead on climate change.

Finally, the report asks what our vision is for more environmentally responsible agriculture and fishing in the UK. Britain has worked with the EU to provide important safeguards for our environment, while at the same time boosting British agriculture and providing vital funding for British farmers – a fact the Leave campaigns like to gloss over.

It is through our EU membership that the UK can support British farming while at the same time encouraging sustainable growth and transitioning to green technology when planning the future of UK agriculture.

The EU’s Common Agriculture Policy isn’t perfect: no-one would claim it is. It needs to be reformed but we need to be in the EU to do that. If we leave Europe, farmers across the UK would lose access to vital EU funding, putting their livelihoods at risk.

In the absence of EU funding, our agriculture sector would be competing on an uneven playing field with EU member countries. Of course, those advocating to leave the EU cannot guarantee that current levels of funding would be maintained. Indeed, the Campaign Director of Vote Leave has admitted that jobs in agriculture would be lost if we leave the EU. All that makes it even more unlikely environmental obligations would still be met, especially if the sector was competing again subsidised rivals in the EU.

The evidence in the report it clear: leaving would be damaging to the interests of both the environment and the agriculture sector. Keeping our seat at the top table on the other hand will mean Britain builds on its global leadership on environmental issues; guarantees a secure livelihood for our crucial agricultural sector; and continues to work with Europe driving forward the environmental agenda. The UK’s environmental protection is stronger in Europe. Leaving would put that at risk.


Lucy Thomas is deputy director of Britain Stronger in Europe.

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Theresa May condemns Big Ben’s silence – but stays silent on Donald Trump’s Nazi defence


You know what it’s like when you get back from your summer holiday. You have the inbox from hell, your laundry schedule is a nightmare, you’ve put on a few pounds, and you receive the harrowing news that a loud bell will chime slightly less often.

Well, Theresa May is currently experiencing this bummer of a homecoming. Imagine it: Philip’s taking out the bins, she’s putting the third load on (carefully separating shirt dresses from leathers), she switches on Radio 4 and is suddenly struck by the cruel realisation that Big Ben’s bongs will fall silent for a few years.

It takes a while for the full extent of the atrocity to sink in. A big old clock will have to be fixed. For a bit. Its bell will not chime. But sometimes it will.

God, is there no end to this pain.

“It can’t be right,” she thinks.

Meanwhile, the President of the United States Donald Trump is busy excusing a literal Nazi rally which is so violent someone was killed. Instead of condemning the fascists, Trump insisted there was violence on both sides – causing resignations and disgust in his own administration and outrage across the world.

At first, May’s spokesperson commented that “what the President says is a matter for him” and condemned the far right, and then the PM continued in the same vein – denouncing the fascists but not directing any criticism at the President himself:

“I see no equivalence between those who profound fascists views and those who oppose them.

“I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them.”

Unlike May, other politicians here – including senior Tories – immediately explicitly criticised Trump. The Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said Trump had “turned his face to the world to defend Nazis, fascists and racists. For shame”, while justice minister Sam Gyimah said the President has lost “moral authority”.

So our Right Honourable leader, the head of Her Majesty’s Government, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, made another statement:

“Of course we want to ensure people’s safety at work but it can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years.

“And I hope that the speaker, as the chairman of the House of Commons commission, will look into this urgently so that we can ensure that we can continue to hear Big Ben through those four years.”

Nailed it. The years ahead hang in the balance, and it was her duty to speak up.

I'm a mole, innit.